First and last

When I first knew last summer that my job at camp would involve escorting kids on ridden trails, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to both them and myself.  I saw it as a privilege – rather than a right – that my boss trusted me enough to take kids and horses out of her sight and control.  Those who don’t know horses might think that there’s only so much that you can do in 45 minutes… they’d be wrong.  Anything can – and does – happen when horses are involved, so I was acutely aware of the fact that these rides wouldn’t often be at my own pleasure.

I quickly learned that when you’re escorting a ride, you’re mentally riding each and every horse in your group.  You’re trying to anticipate their movements and help the riders out, whilst ensuring that everyone is safe and enjoying themselves.  It’s a juggling act and, until you know both the horses and the kids, it’s pretty nerve-wracking.  And even when you do know your equine and human companions, you can still only guess as to what’s going to happen.

There are strict rules for trails where I work, which my boss has developed during her 10 summers at our camp.  There are certain parts of the trail where the only gait you can travel at is a walk, and times when you must use your best judgement from day to day.  At the beginning of the session, trotting is forbidden, as the horses have had a few days off and are pretty lively.  Trotting is also off the table if the weather has been poor.  Cantering is only okayed once riders have successfully cantered in lessons – something which is just plain common sense.

Despite the rules, we had a few issues last summer, but I doubt there will be any surprise that I stuck to the rules religiously.  I wanted my kids to be safe and not scared.  But above that, I didn’t want to be the one who returned home with a horse who had left behind a shoe or sustained an injury.  The weather was incredibly hot for much of last summer, and our horses all work around four hours per day, so I was also reluctant to flog them.  I also didn’t want my privileges to be revoked, so I did my best to play by the rules.

It paid off, as I’ve been given a good number of trails this summer too.  My boss will supervise the departure of many trails, but leaves me and our other returnee to sort ourselves out, trusting our knowledge of the horses to allocate them appropriately to campers and decide on a suitable order for the ride.

I taught one of our frequent fliers for all six weeks of his stay this summer, meaning that he and I have wandered the trails with his class many times.  He’s always appreciative of our rides, and taking him out is a great experience.  When his final trail arrived, my boss decided to come with us, even though the numbers didn’t dictate it to be a necessity (her rules are one staff member to every two or three campers, depending on horses and rider ability – this class is my advanced one and, as I only had two students, I always took them out alone).

I knew from the beginning that it would be fun, partly because the responsibility was off me as I was happy for my boss to take charge.  She rode at the front on one of my favourite horses, and I was on her favourite horse at the back – a change from our usual situation.  This was actually our first ride out together with campers in our two summers working together – she prefers that one of us remains at the barn at all times, rather than escorting trails together, but this was an exception.

As both campers are capable riders, it was a speedy trail from the outset.  We waited and walked through the early rocky stages of the trail before taking a quick trot up a side road to the open field which serves as our usual cantering space.  Sure enough, there was a canter around the side of the field towards the woods beyond.  As it was the end of the day and we finish that class a little early to feed the horses, I knew we’d have to go some in order to get home, but my boss was determined and flexed her rules with good judgement.  I wasn’t surprised when we trotted a couple of the less muddy sections, but was a little shocked – though pleased – to get another brief canter.

The trail descends along an old riverbed before snaking up through the woods – it’s my favourite section of our trails, because when the light catches just so, the view through the trees is beautiful.  I didn’t get to see my favourite view this time: we trotted up the final steep section, and I saw my boss canter away once the path levelled out!  There are a few sharp turns, but the horses were more than capable and seemed excited to get the chance to blast around the woods.  My riders handled the ride brilliantly and I got to kick on and enjoy myself as my horse powered along the track.

When we emerged from the woods, my boss turned in her saddle and announced we’d have a final canter, and that this time she was going to let us go a little faster.  We surged through the tall grass along a track I could probably canter smoothly in my sleep, and pulled up grinning at the corner of the field to begin our amble home.

We made it back to the barn in good time to help with feeding, and I dismounted feeling exhilarated after my ride.  It had been a fun week on the trails for me, after the previous session had been a slight washout with the amount of rain we’d had, as well as being the perfect way to say goodbye to a treasured student.

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